Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Book 1: The Crucible
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Drawn by Robert Hack
Published by Archie Comics
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: The Crucible is not a cute book. In this two Archie horror books, Afterlife With Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa takes these all-American teenage kids and puts them in the middle of a Stephen King-like world. It’s no longer important whether Betty or Veronica is Archie’s true love; all that matters is which one will live to see tomorrow. This recasting of the Archie myths plays off of the ties between stories of teenage all-American kids in love and in fear for their lives. Sabrina takes the story of a friendly, teenage witch and tells her story of being an American witch that’s part of a long, troubled and persecuted tradition.
“Traditional” is actually a really great word to use to describe Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack’s work in this book. There’s witch lore behind their storytelling here that goes back to the days when women were hung or drowned just for being suspected of being a witch. Exploring her birth and her education, they show Sabrina as a young red-blooded girl who is basically expected to follow in the family business of witchcraft. Her father was a warlock, her aunts are witches. She’s got power behind her but she does have one flaw in her; her mother was a normal woman who was used by her father. Aguirre-Sacasa and Hack don’t shy away from the hints of abuse that take place in this story. Sabrina’s mother was a victim of her father and Sabrina is as much her mother’s child as she is her father’s.
Aguirre-Sacasa dives deep into the traditions and myths of witchcraft that conflicts with the coming-of-age of story of a girl in the 1960s. Even as he’s exploring this tradition, he’s telling a story of possible rebellion of a girl struggling between tradition and modernity. And while that story has been told before in comics and even in television shows (which I completely forgot about until I googled it,) it’s the depth of both aspects of the character that Aguirre-Sacasa and Hack are willing to dive down into that makes this book really kind of shocking. On one hand, you have this evil power that wants to use this girl and on the other hand, that power has to go up against normal teenage hormones.
Over in Afterlife with Archie, Aguirre-Sacasa has basically played the same conflict, only with zombies and teenage hormones. What’s new here is Robert Hack and his not-quite-rose-colored images of Sabrina’s life. His scratchy artwork and autumnal oranges and browns give the story a worn feeling to it. Not in the sense that the story is tired but that it’s an old story that’s being told in this book. While Aguirre-Sacasa sometimes gets lost in the combined lores of witchcraft and Archie, Hack plays with the incongruity of the imagery to make the combination feel like an old, timeworn connection that’s no different if her aunts were Rotarians as opposed to them being witches.
Hack also has a great time with the fashions of his characters. From the slightly-stuffy aunts to the titillating undead witch to the high school letterman to Satan himself appearing at a witch’s ceremony, Hack dresses his characters to match their personalities. The playfulness of his fashions build off of horror movie traditions of jocks and their girls being hunted by unseen terrors even as the real horror of this book is those girls and the powers that they’re discovering. Sex and power. Power and sex. The great story that Aguirre-Sacasa and Hack are telling is about Sabrina finding out about both of those things.
The combination of all-American teens and horror stories is nothing new but that Archie Comics have decided to explore these paths with their long-standing squeaky clean characters still is a bit shocking. In one book, you have Archie starring in The Walking Dead but in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and Robert Hack are using these characters to tell a story about witchcraft as much as they are about teenage love and rebellion. But ultimately, it’s a bit difficult to tell what’s really frightening his how well these two stories can become one or how much the horrors of Sabrina’s life invade and take over the life of a girl who’s just trying to survive high school.